Felix Sater, who exchanged emails with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, admitted he was exaggerating when made a major claim about Putin in 2015.
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A little-known but pivotal figure in the Russia investigation has backtracked on a 2015 claim that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin could get President Donald Trump elected once a Trump Tower was completed in Moscow, according to Buzzfeed.
Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman with a history of intelligence and counterterrorism work for the US, sent two emails to Trump's lawyer and former Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen in late 2015 in which he celebrated the beginning of a deal to get the tower in Moscow built.
"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater wrote, according to The Times. "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected."
But in a recent interview Sater appeared to walk back these claims.
When asked if he knew Putin, Sater replied, "No, of course not." But he did present an explanation for his hyperbolic email exchange.
"If a deal can get done and I could make money and he could look like a statesman, what the f--- is the downside, right?" he told Buzzfeed.
Sater added that no one expected Trump to win the election, including Trump himself.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly interviewed Sater for his investigation into Russian election interference, and he is slated to sit before the Senate Intelligence Committee in April of this year. Sater likely has information about Trump's business dealings in Russia, according to Buzzfeed, but he has refused to disclose what he was asked by investigators or what he told them.
Trump has been trying to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow since 1987, but has repeatedly failed to do so. His most recent effort began with his trip to Moscow in 2013 for a Miss Universe pageant he was hosting there. While the plans were nixed in 2014 following sanctions being placed on Russia by the US, they appeared to have resurfaced in 2015.
According to Sater, plans were underway for the tower well into Trump's campaign.
"Once the campaign was really going-going, it was obvious there were going to be no deals internationally," Sater said. "We were still working on it, doing something with it, November-December."
Mueller is reportedly looking into both Sater's email exchanges with Cohen and a copy of a Russia-Ukraine "peace plan" that Sater, Cohen, and Ukrainian businessman Andrey Artemenko were pushing in the early days of Trump's presidency. The plan favored Moscow and promised to lift sanctions in exchange for concessions on Russia's claims in Ukraine.
According to The New York Times, former national security adviser Michael Flynn received the plan a week before he left office in February 2017. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December of last year about contacts he had with former Russian ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak in December 2016. The two apparently also discussed easing sanctions on Russia and not enforcing ones that had already been put in place.